Acts 21-23

The religious establishment in Jerusalem seeks to beat, and ultimately kill Paul. Paul’s response is remarkable. It would have been illegal for the people to beat Paul without a hearing because he was a Roman citizen. Rarely can we control our circumstances, but we can control how we respond in those circumstances. Paul kept his cool, he defended himself, but he did not destroy his witness or hurt the cause of Christ. When he stood before the council Paul took the opportunity to share Christ. Even when people sin against us we must seek to take the opportunity to show Christ as worth everything.

Some thoughts to prayerfully consider:

  • As Paul faces opposition the Lord stood beside him and told him to take courage. How does God’s presence with you give you courage? How does it sustain you? How does it comfort you?
  • When things get tough is your goal to have comfort or to let God use your circumstances for his glory?
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Acts 18-20

“Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” (19:15). Sadly this question may be asked to too many people who warm the pews of Churches. As Christians we should want the devil and his minions to fear us because we are so committed to honoring God. These sons of Sceva were trying to use God’s power without actually knowing him. Instead of confessing the name of Jesus they used it as an incantation. They were seeking to use God’s power for their own gain. God’s power is great, and it cannot be contained or manipulated. God always unleashes his power for his own ends—namely, that he is glorified. When God’s power was seen the people of Ephesus immediately burned their books (worth 50,000 days wages) because they understood where real power came from. When we seek to use God’s power for our own ends it will always fail, but there is no limit to what God can do when we allow him to use us by his power for his purposes.

Some thoughts to prayerfully consider:

  • God promises Paul protection and his presence (18:9-10). Why should the promise of God’s presence prevent us from fearing and assure us of his protection? How does God protect us?

Acts 16-17

The church in Berea is an example for us all. They teach us how we should receive God’s Word (17:11). They received the Word with eagerness. When we sit down to read God’s Word we are doing something that most Christians throughout history have not had the privilege to do. It should be no small thing to us that we get to hear from God through his Word. This also begs the question of how we should listen to sermons. The act of listening to a sermon is a peculiar thing, if you think about it. There is nothing that is logical about gathering to listen to someone speak, except that God’s people are eager to receive his Word.

The Bereans were also those who examined Scriptures and evaluated what Paul said by them. Accepting without discernment is not a virtue. Christians ought to always examine Scriptures and evaluate what they read and hear against Scripture. When what we hear and read does not align with God’s Word—even if it comes from another Christian—we need to disregard it. On a deeper lever we need to give the Scripture so much weight that we examine our lives against it. It is good to believe the Scripture, but true belief results in following Scripture.

Some thoughts to prayerfully consider:

  • Paul and Silas sang hymns while in prison. Can you have joy when things don’t go the way you want? Can you worship when your life seems to go wrong? Will you do what is right, even when it is not easy?
  • Paul goes into a hostile situation on the Areopagus and proclaims that God is better than any idol. How is following God better than following anything else that tempts us (money, power, comfort, pleasure, etc.)?

Acts 14-15

Christians had experienced all kinds of trouble from outside the church, but by Acts 15 there were problems inside the church. There were people who questioned to what extent the Gentiles have to obey the law before they can be part of the church. The problem was that these “Christians” were adding to grace, but in God’s economy to add anything to grace is to destroy grace.

The law crushes us. The law is not deficient as it is a perfect revelation of God, but it does not enable us to follow it. All the law does is condemn us that we are not able to keep it. Grace frees us to follow Christ, but it also frees us to love others. Grace helps me see that although I have freedom in Christ, the right response to my freedom is to show grace to others as I have been shown grace and therefor restrict my freedom. James gives three prohibitions, but these were given in order to be able to reach the Jews. As a Christian, sometimes the question we need to ask ourselves as we reflect on our freedom in Christ is not, “Do I have the right?,” but “Is it helpful?”

Some thoughts to prayerfully consider:

  • God “opened a door of faith to the Gentiles” (Acts 14:27). How can you look for opportunities that God gives you and capitalize on them?
  • How does the concept of grace separate Christianity from other religions? How does an understanding of God’s grace help your relationship with others? How does an understanding of God’s grace help your own pursuit of Christ?

Acts 11-12

There are many who see persecution as antithetical to following Christ, but in Acts persecution comes to those who most faithfully and closely follow Christ. James was killed and Peter was imprisoned. However, in recording all of this Luke wants us to give us comfort in the midst of the persecution that comes to us. There is no persecution from which God cannot deliver us. Herod had four squads of soldiers guard Peter—a fisherman (it is hard to not laugh at that). Mighty Herod was afraid of God’s power.  Try as they might to punish him, Peter was rescued by an angel.  As Peter went to John Mark’s house, he found out the reason that God sent the angel—people were praying. God delivered Peter because of the prayers of his people. We need to be praying that God would deliver us through temptation, but we also need to be praying for those persecuted Christians who are, even today, suffering for their faith.  Because of the gift God has given us in this spiritual weapon called prayer we can have great comfort and hope through anything we face.  We must simply be faithful to pray.

Some thoughts to prayerfully consider:

  • Take some time to pray for persecuted Christians. You can find information about specific prayer requests at http://www.icommittopray.com or https://www.imb.org/prayer-list/?searchtype=all.
  • Herod, the persecutor, eventually died. God’s church kept on going. How does your faithfulness in persecution show that you trust God will always win?
  • Why does the world persecute Christians? Why were Paul and Barnabas persecuted at Psidian Antioch? Why will persecution never end until Jesus comes back? How does realizing that Christians have always been persecuted and will always be persecuted help you endure persecution more faithfully?

Acts 9-10

While we often focus on the extraordinary aspects of Paul’s conversion—the appearance of Jesus, the scales on the eyes, etc.—we ought not overlook how normal Paul’s conversion was. At its core the conversion of Paul is the conversion of every believer. There is an encounter with Jesus. While we have not seen him bodily, we cannot overlook that we have seen his glory and his grace. All believers submit to Jesus in faith. Saul followed the orders that Jesus gave him and trusted in his Word. Paul submitted to Jesus in baptism, a revolutionary declaration in the first century (as it still should be today). Also, all believers surrender to serve. Repentance and faith always result in a surrender to serve. There is never anything routine about a conversion. Every time God redeems someone it is miraculous. May we never lose the awe of what God has done in us.

Some thoughts to prayerfully consider:

  • Simon the tanner would have been an outcast and considered unclean, yet Peter stayed in his house. Do we truly love people the way Christ did and calls us to? Do we see ministry to people as more important than propriety?
  • Cornelius was religious and moral, and yet did not really know God. Why do we settle for rituals instead of actually knowing God?

Acts 7-8

Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch reveals much. It reminds us how God convicts through his word. The Ethiopian is reading God’s Word and begins to be stirred although he cannot understand everything. This story also reminds us that God is constantly putting people in our path. The Spirit led Philip to the eunuch to explain to him “the good news about Jesus” (8:35). We need to be sensitive to the leading of the Spirit as there are constantly people around us in whom God is working that we can minister to and provide clarity for. We should also see what God is doing here in the scope of God’s Word. The eunuch was worshipping at the temple (8:27), but as a eunuch he would have been barred from the inner courts of the temple. However, we must not overlook that it was from the book of Isaiah the eunuch was reading. Isaiah promised that eunuchs (those who had been emasculated) would have a heritage better than sons and daughters (Is. 56:3-5). The eunuch was reading one of the servant passages in Isaiah that prophesied of Christ. In short, the reason that he would be given a heritage was because of the work of Christ. The work that Christ does in all of his followers is that he takes those who are unworthy and unclean to come before God and through his sacrifice makes us clean.

Some thoughts to prayerfully consider:

  • Part of Stephen’s argument in his sermon was that the presence of God was not bound to one place (7:9). Do you really act and trust that God is with you wherever you are? Are there places where you feel closer to God or further away from God? Is that Biblical?
  • Stephen seems to very closely echo the words of Jesus in his death(“receive my spirit”—7:59—and, “do not hold this sin against them”—7:60).   How well do you resemble Christ in times of persecution and suffering? How does Christlikeness in suffering work in the life of others (think about the fact that Saul/Paul witnessed all of this)?